In the movie Limitless, Bradley Cooper pops a pill that lets him tap into the supposed dormant 90 percent of his brain. It allows him to pick winning stocks, speak foreign languages, play the piano like a virtuoso, and even defend himself against muggers by instantly recalling and expertly executing Kung Fu moves he’d seen on TV. In the upcoming Lucy, Scarlett Johansson taps into the dormant 90 percent of her brain by popping a pill that gives her telepathic, telekinetic and shape-shifting powers.
This begs the question: Do we really only use just 10 percent of our intricate grey matter?
Undeniably, the human brain has evolved to become a highly complex organ made up of nearly 100 billion neurons. A few noteworthy individuals have postulated–including Albert Einstein and Margaret Mead–that we only use a fraction of all this brainpower. The truth is, there simply are no scientific studies to back this up.
Some trace this myth to American psychologist William James who observed that the average person rarely reaches their full potential. This broad thought was eventually interpolated by psychics, mystics and science fiction writers as a “vacuum in cranial use.”
In truth, modern-day brain scans reveal that most of our brains are constantly active. And while it’s true that some areas are busier at any given time than others, no part of the brain ever just sits in idle mode. In other words, our brains are normally “firing on all cylinders.” According to Eric H. Chudler, PhD, there is no scientific evidence to suggest we only use just 10 percent of our brains.
Yet somehow, with the help of science fiction films and TV shows, the myth lives on. A recent study published in the Journal of Psychology found that college psychology majors, who you’d expect could separate fact from fiction, believed the 10 percent myth to have some validity. A non-scientific internet poll noted that 52 percent of respondents believed that humans use only 10 percent of their brain.
One final thought: If we only needed 10 percent of our brain to survive, why would we have evolved with 90 percent of this mass, which draws 20 percent of our supply of oxygen and glucose?